Life and how to read it

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

One of the concepts I’ve always remembered from my years studying journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno was something Jake Highton talked about in our journalism ethics class. Newspapers, he said, basically have the ethics they think they can afford.

In my years in this business—I’ve been getting paid for my writing and editing for more than two decades—I can’t begin to tell you how many times I think I’ve seen this borne out. Nobody can ever really say for sure if another publication’s ethics are solid, but the signs are there. Sometimes, rarely, there’s a smoking gun suggesting that the newspaper or magazine or what-have-you has decided it can’t afford to put the readers first. For example, someone will call and say, “Well, we bought an ad in such-and-such and so they gave us a story.” Quid pro quo.

There are publications where the sophisticated consumer recognizes their modus operandi: The reader will not be told that the story is bought and paid for or that the information within it is suspect—but no ostensibly negative information is ever included.

I can tell you for a fact that I have never been told by my boss, Jeff vonKaenel—even when financial threats were dire—that we would write (or not write) stories about any particular topic or advertiser. The closest thing that ever happened was when we were given certain “content areas” (like “environment”) that we could use as we chose—and since those areas were places we editors and writers wanted to cover, it was a win-win.

It’s interesting, though. As the ethics of this newspaper become more important by virtue of the failure of some other publications during these tough economic times, why would some entities expect that we would succumb to the same ethical failures that aided those other publications’ demise?